WOW got to chat with Seattle-based filmmaker Elliat Graney-Saucke about her exciting and important new documentary “Boys on the Inside,” which chronicles the lives of a number of incarcerated queer men and women, and their experiences after they’re released from prison. Elliat (seen in the above video discussing the film with the doc’s lead character Sebastian Rain) is currently completing the documentary, and her crowdfunding campaign for the film ends this coming Monday, September 19. Click here to learn more about how you can help with the film’s completion, and here’s our in-depth conversation with Elliat about “Boys on the Inside.”
What is the subject matter of “Boys on the Inside”?
“Boys on the Inside” is the first feature documentary about ‘boy’ identity in women’s prisons. The film follows a group of formerly (and currently) incarcerated individuals, ranging from transmen, to butches/tomboy girls, to feminine girls / femmes. The main character of the film is Sebastian Raine, a formerly incarcerated Latino transman who was incarcerated for a total of 8.5 years while he was struggling with addiction. As a character driven film, “Boys on the Inside” looks at the personal stories of life before, during and after prison, focusing on the butch/trans experiences of incarceration. There is much more negative attention given to ‘boy’ within the institution, where they are seen as predators (a very old homophobic stereotype of dykes/lesbians). The flip side of that story is also that ‘boys’ get a lot of attention within the prison population and there is a lot of status and privilege on that flip side… it’s really a unique story!
What motivated you to make this film?
The documentary began 8 years ago, in 2008, when I was shooting footage for a transitional arts-based program for people coming out of prison. The program was a test project that didn’t take off, but is based out of the long-standing prison arts program “Keeping the Faith/The Prison Project” (KTF) that has been run by Pat Graney Company for 25 years in Washington State (as well as nationally/internationally). My involvement in KTF began about 15 years ago, and I’ve been involved with everything from being on the documentary team to being the Program Coordinator. While working on KTF Transitions, it was the first time that I had been with a group of people from KTF on the outside (not in prison) and all these bizarre and intense stories started coming out! When people are locked up, they don’t have the space or freedom to talk with outsiders about the complexity of their experience. Learning more about, not only the people in this group of friends who served together, but also hearing about the gay culture and how ‘boys’ were treated – I felt very drawn towards documenting and better understanding these experiences. As a white queer femme filmmaker who has not been incarcerated but who has family members and friends who struggle with many of the issues within the film (from addiction, abusive relationships, incarceration, transphobia from cops, etc), it has been interesting project! This film has impacted me both on a personal and artistic level…and we haven’t even gotten into editing yet!
Who are the main protagonists of your documentary?
Sebastian Raine is the lead character; primarily because he is the person I know the best. He’s become a part of my family as someone close to my aunt, and so I’ve had a chance to hear a lot of his stories, from how he grew up with hells angels, drug use and abusive situations, to hearing about and witnessing his experiences in prison where he was labeled as a predator. I’ve also witnessed his journey dealing with institutionalization and working on building a better life for himself after prison, including working on his relationship to his estranged daughter and now with his ‘boy’ identified granddaughter, as well as his coming out as trans and beginning to take T (testosterone) 1 year ago. And all of these stories are central to the film.
Sarah, a Latina ‘boy’ currently based in Southern Oregon, has struggled with recidivism and is currently building a stable and sober life for herself near her mom. Involved in the film since the beginning, we’ve corresponded off and on between her stints in prison, and her mom and sister have also been super supportive and will likely be included in the film to address the family dynamics around both Sarah as a ‘boy’ and dealing with addiction.
Louise is a white butch ‘boy’ who has built herself up and is running a successful business in Seattle. Having served a shorter sentence and only having been locked up once, she still speaks to how many years it took her to un-do the mentality of being ‘just a number’ within prison and working on finding not only herself again, but her confidence to build a successful life on the outside, running her hustle on the right side of the law.
Christina, based Eastern Washington, is a ‘boy’ who grew up in a big Latina family with a father who was a preacher, a life where she worked in the fields before school each day, and a life where gang culture and drugs became a part of the picture very early on. In and out of sober houses, she is working hard building a balanced life centered around her family.
Tama-Lisa, a white dyke who dates ‘boys’, has gone from a stint of over ten years in prison, to finally getting herself clean and holding a management position, which has allowed her to buy her first house. With a mouth on her like no other, Tama tells us stories about how it is inside, the drama and the shenanigans, as well as articulating what people need when they get out of prison to be positive members of society.
There are many other characters within the film with large and smaller parts, including Honey Jo, Liz, TaLee, Black, Lora/Hungry, Sunny, Riley, T, Ronda, Tank, Monica, Andrea, etc.
You’re collaborating with Sebastian, one of the protagonists in the film. What has the experience been like working together?
Yes! Sebastian and I get along really well, so working together makes a lot of sense! For me it is important that the film includes an ‘insider’ perspective as well as someone who can more easily network with formerly incarcerated people who we want to stay connected to the project. I am still the active director of the project and of course have different skill sets in filmmaking, etc., but the great thing about having Sebastian involved is that his voice is a part of the conversation, and he shows up and has stayed a strong supporter of the film through thick and thin!
What were some of the most stand-out moments or stories that you encountered while making the film?
There are soooo many incredible and hard and funny and heartbreaking things that have happened the last 8 years of the production. Some key aspects have been seeing some people in the film go from struggling to get custody of their kids and find housing to having strong careers, being great parents and buying their own home! Other stories that are much harder include one individual in the film who is no longer alive due to drug addiction. Loosing her was very hard for many people involved in the project. I think the most recent moment that was incredible for me was a conversation I had with two interviewees, where they really stepped into advocating for how they want to be portrayed and talking about their vision for the larger impact of the film. Having a long term project where people can go from being institutionalized to being much more grounded in advocating for themselves is incredible, and I feel so honored to have them on board and to be moving forward with them.
In a previous interview you did with Sebastian promoting the film (in the above video), both of you mentioned that the emotions in the film range from humor to sorrow. What are some of the funnier and/or emotional moments in the film?
Well, the funny stuff gets pretty raunchy! There are amazing storytellers in the film and the stories about relationships and drama are pretty funny, and just sometimes shocking. There is also a darker humor about violence also, where people use humor to deal with abuse as well as acting out violence for protection. The cry fest stuff is around the people who have passed who were deeply connected to not only the film but others within it. Even the fact that there is footage of people who have since died, when they were doing really well, and that they fell so far, is pretty emotional.
In that same interview, you mentioned that a lot of your film’s protagonists found that there was an extreme adjustment period after serving time. What are some of the challenges they’ve faced, and how are they doing now?
Yes. Many people, when incarcerated for years, become very institutionalized. Meaning, after years of other people telling you exactly where and how you can move, dress, act, what you can eat, etc., having that freedom they’ve been longing for, to have the freedom of choice and movement, for many people this is quite overwhelming. I’ve heard many stories of people having panic attacks from just going to the store and having to chose between 30 different deodorants for example. I know for many people, having routine and things ‘just so’ in their homes is really important because it becomes so ingrained. For many people, recidivism is also a very big issue. Lots of people come out and they don’t have a place to live, no money, can’t work, and they end up on the street running the same hustle as before. There are services and programs, but most are not comprehensive enough and also there are not enough resources. Many people also miss their friends or have a girlfriend inside they want to go back to, so they will reoffend to go back to prison, because it is what they know. So many people start getting locked up when they are teenagers because of drugs and hard family situations, and institutions become so familiar that people really struggle to find ways to build a life on the outside. But, that being said, there are some outstanding success stories within “Boys on the Inside” and some really strong people who have been to hell and back and are building beautiful lives for themselves.
With the popularity of “Orange is the New Black,” how has that affected the way that you’ve thought about your film and your creative process, and the public’s interest in this subject matter?
The funny thing is, we started filming “Boys on the Inside” in 2008, before “Orange is the New Black” was broadcast! So, with that as a large pop culture icon depicting life in women’s prisons, it for sure creates a new context for our film. We’ve even gone as far as to point to “Boys on the Inside” as the ‘Real’ “Orange is the New Black.” The point of the film has never been to create a film in opposition to OITNB, but we do see it as a parallel that will shed light on some more truth to the experience of incarceration, where OITNB has dramatized the story, of what I will also point out is a minimum-security institution. We are really excited by how this new cultural landscape of OITNB, trans bathroom rights as well as critique of the prison system, will be things we can tap into that will support the film in touring and doing impactful community engagement! Bring it!
What were some of the biggest challenges or obstacles you faced while making the film, and how were you able to overcome them?
There are logistical challenges, like getting access to certain space, as well as keeping in touch with people who bounce back and forth between being in and out of prison. But there are also the personal and creative challenges – namely that it is a lot of pressure to create a work that there will be so much expectation and personal investment in from audiences. This is something I have learned through creating past work, and in realizing how much audiences and community project themselves or their needs onto projects and films, especially when there is a huge lack of visibility and this quite possibly being the first time they have seen something close to their stories on screen, people really want their idea of how the story should be told to be centered. This is completely understandable. However, it is one film and there are certain constrains that happen when you have 1-1.5 hours to tell a story. There will be audiences where people with opposite views will both have strong opinions about the work. These conversations are important and I’ve learned that these need to be community conversations within the audience – the film is like a spark plug that helps boost the conversation. I have no way of knowing the specifics of what is happening in each community we will visit, but I do know that is there is a needed conversation around the issues in this film, there will for sure be a lot to talk about, and I look forward to that being a productive process!
What’s next for the project, and what needs to happen now to complete the film?
We are almost done filming!! (Really!!) After 8 years, most of which was spent in out of country, I am ready to wrap this baby up! We will complete filming this fall/winter and aim to have a final cut by June 2017 for an early 2018 premiere! We are running a crowdfunding campaign for $35,000 that ends Monday, September 19th at 4pm (PST) that will allow us to complete production and post-production so that the film is festival ready! Any support through donation and/or sharing the campaign info on social media and in community networks would be so appreciated! This is a great opportunity to get involved in the first film about ‘boy’ identity in women’s prisons!!
Where do you plan to take your film after it’s completed, and how do you plan to use the film in terms of outreach and education?
Well… we have our dream premieres of course, the top festivals being Sundance, TIFF, Tribecca, Cannes and Berlinale… so we’ll just have to wait and see what happens! There is a lot of industry interest in the film already though – since I’ve been promoting the film and had a trailer out since 2012 or so, queer film festivals internationally have been bugging me to screen it. Some people even think it’s already done since it’s been such a long project! Haha. Well, the world premiere will be here sooner than we realize, and we can’t wait to share this film and these stories with everyone!! In regards to community engagement – we have lots of plans! This is another reason it is key for Sebastian to be involved in the production, so that he becomes deeply familiar with the process and speaking publicly about the film as well as his experience. My aim is to tour to as many communities as we can, with a panel of people from the project, while also mandating that whichever institution brings us, to partner with a local agency that can bring in local women and trans folks who are recently out of prison. It is essential that these conversations firstly don’t just look at the people in the film as ‘other’ through an academic lens, and the best way I can think to do this is to shift the conversation back to people’s own communities – to flip the mirror back on them as it were. That is the idea/plan anyways. I’ve also recently been advised that having mental health counselors available is something to consider, because some aspects of the film might bring up hard stuff about personal experiences of audience members. I hope also to not only go into other communities around the country and hopefully internationally too, but as well to do some meaningful work locally in the Pacific Northwest with the support of local institutions and service agencies.
What are some websites and web links where people can learn more about the film and your crowdfunding campaign?
We have so many! First – the crowdfunding campaign (Seed&Spark, which is film specific) is here: https://www.seedandspark.com/fund/boys-on-the-inside
In addition to donating, it is also important to “follow” the campaign page – it takes 2 minute and doesn’t require a donation! With 1,000 followers, our successful campaign will get free distribution support from Seed&Spark!!
Film website: www.boysontheinside.com
Production Company: www.contrastvisionproductions.com
Thanks so much Elliat for speaking with us about this amazing film! And for WOW Report readers, please visit “Boys on the Inside”‘s crowdfunding campaign to find out how to support the documentary’s completion.